D.J. Fluker switched from tackle to guard the second week of training camp a year ago and did not look back. However, moving just one spot to the interior is not as seamless of a transition as one might think. There are enough significant differences including new responsibilities, different types of opponents and quicker initial contact.
Still, Fluker dealt with the change on the fly and with ease.
It wasn't until this offseason that number 76 realized how much of a fish out of water he was. But with a full season under his belt and a whole offseason to prepare, Fluker finally feels comfortable at guard and believes the result speaks for itself.
"Things are so much slower now for me," he said. "It's actually pretty cool. I can read the blitzes easier, and the communication is easier, too. I just see things earlier. Being in year two, everything is so much clearer now. I am reading stances better, reading linebackers and understanding everything clearer in the pre-snap read. Things are a whole lot easier, and that is giving me an advantage to make fewer mistakes."
Last season was an up and down year for Fluker. There were a number of highlights, including allowing just one sack all year. However, he was flagged for a significant amount of penalties. Looking back, he believes his unfamiliarity with the position made him jittery, which is why he believes those flags will be fewer and farther between.
"I got all those penalties because I just wasn't calm. And that is because I was more uncomfortable than I even realize. I got a little anxiety. As the year went on I got calmer, and I did eliminate some of those penalties. Being inside isn't bad, but it took me a while to get used to it. More than I realized. Things happen a whole lot faster, but I just hung in there. Now it is slowing down. Pass protection is actually easier on the inside."
While there are aspects of playing tackle he misses, he relishes one aspect in particular of playing guard far above the rest.
"Pulling! Being about to pull and just blow people up in the hole, it is the most fun thing you can do in football. I love it, and I can't wait to put some people on their back this year."
Even though Fluker is feeling more comfortable at guard, he's well aware there are areas still left to improve.
"I need to get better at post stepping with the drag off. I need to get better with slide protections. I still want to get a little faster, and know where to be at the exact right time. I think it is coming together. I can't wait to get going. My confidence level is sky high."